In Denise Levertov’s poem, Life at War, she shines a light on the reality of the Vietnam War. During this time, the public had very little actual knowledge of what was actually happening in Vietnam. Levertov has one stanza which is very alarming,
Still turns without surprise, with mere regret
To the scheduled breaking open of breasts whose milk
Runs out over the entrails of still – alive babies,
Transformation of witnessing eyes to pulp – fragments,
Implosion of skinned penises into carcass – gulleys.
This stanza describes the reign of terror that Vietnamese civilians are under. A lot of Americans during this time thought that only Vietnamese soldiers were the ones being hurt, but in reality, there were more civilian deaths than military deaths. The next stanza brings a sense of empathy towards the human race.
We are the humans, men who can make;
Whose language imagines mercy,
Lovingkindness we have believed one another
Mirrored forms of a God we felt as good-
In that stanza, she tells the reader that people are people, no matter where they come from or what they look like. All of these people have lives, and families, and people who care about them and it is wrong to slaughter and torture them just because they happen to be there. In the poem, Levertov does not explicitly state whether she is talking about American citizens or Vietnamese citizens, and I believe she made a conscious decision about this. I believe that she did this to show that killing, no matter race, sexual orientation, and/or religion, should ever be murdered.
Who do these acts, who convince ourselves
It is necessary; these acts are done
To our own flesh; burned human flesh
Is smelling in Vietnam as I write.
This stanza brings the idea to the table of American exceptionalism. When she says “it is necessary” she is saying that part of being an American, is believing that we always have to assert our dominance and power over other countries who either don’t agree with us, or they challenge us.